In the past year products as diverse as soap, pet food, and even anupscale London, England restaurant have been hit by false organicclaims.
In Canada, there are more goods than ever claiming to be organic, from coffee, to produce, even wine and beer, playing on consumers’ desire to consume Earth-conscious products.
Lang Michener LLP intellectual property lawyer Peter Wells says, socially conscious marketing is just as susceptible to false claims as any other kind of product promotion.
“It is a particular brand of dishonest marketing, where people say this product washes two times better, or our batteries last twice as long or our Internet is faster than the other guys,” he says. “To a degree there always is the ‘buyer beware, do you really believe that detergent ‘A’ gets your shirts whiter that white,’ . . . you as a consumer have to have your BS filter in operation.”
To assist consumers’ “BS” filter, in 2006 the federal government announced a new logo, the certified Canadian organic logo, and new organic standards regulations. Many provinces already have organic standards including Ontario and British Columbia.
The new logo is to be phased-in by the end of this year with the new regulations taking shape by June 2009. In making the announcement then-agricultural minister Chuck Strahl said: “Not only will Canadians be protected against deceptive and misleading claims on organic products, but the organic industry's capacity to respond to international and domestic market opportunities will be strengthened.”
By the end of the phase-in period, organic goods must be certified for international trade.
Wells also says that there are several organizations now that aim to protect consumers, but one of the difficulties is there is no single oversight committee. One key in bringing in an internationally recognized and accepted logo is that it would be backed up by trademark law, a viable way to protect against false claims and avoid consumer cynicism.
“The purpose of a trademark is to tell the public who is responsible for putting these goods into the chain of commerce,” Wells says. “Who is responsible for their quality and there are cases that say the purpose of a trademark is the protection of the public, while a particular organization may own the trademark, in a particular sense, it’s not there property necessarily to do with as they will.”
A complete list of organic logo regulations can be found at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/SOR-2006-338.